Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he and his Cabinet are united in “strongly opposing” the emerging framework agreement on curbing Iran’s nuclear program and demanded that any final deal contain Iranian recognition of Israel’s right to exist.
Iran and six world powers announced a series of understandings Thursday, with a final agreement to be reached by June 30. A final deal is meant to cut significantly into Iran’s bomb-capable technology while giving Tehran quick access to assets and markets blocked by international sanctions.
Netanyahu has harshly criticized the negotiations, demanding instead that the Iranian program be dismantled. He claims Iran cannot be trusted, and that leaving certain facilities intact would allow the Iranians to eventually build a bomb.
However, it appears unlikely Israel will be able to prevent the final deal amid broad international support for such an agreement.
On Friday, the eve of Passover, Netanyahu convened his Cabinet for a special session to discuss the emerging framework, reached after a week of grueling negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Netanyahu said after the session that “Israel will not accept an agreement which allows a country that vows to annihilate us to develop nuclear weapons, period.”
However, he also acknowledged the possibility of a final agreement being reached, and said that such a deal must “include a clear and unambiguous Iranian recognition of Israel’s right to exist.”
Netanyahu said his Cabinet “is united strongly opposing the proposed deal,” which he said would threaten Israel’s survival.
“Such a deal does not block Iran’s path to the bomb,” he said. “Such a deal paves Iran’s path to the bomb. And it might very well spark a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East and it would greatly increase the risks of terrible war.”
The commitments announced Thursday, if implemented, would substantially pare back some Iranian nuclear assets for a decade and restrict others for an additional five years. According to a US document listing those commitments, Tehran is ready to reduce its number of centrifuges, the machines that can spin uranium gas to levels used in nuclear warheads.
Of the nearly 20,000 centrifuges Iran now has installed or running at its main enrichment site, the country would be allowed to operate just over 5,000. Much of its enriched stockpiles would be neutralized. A planned reactor would be reconstructed so it can’t produce weapons-grade plutonium. Monitoring and inspections by the U.N. nuclear agency would be enhanced.
Netanyahu also voiced concerns that the emerging deal would leave much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure intact.
“They would not shut down a single nuclear facility in Iran, would not destroy a single centrifuge in Iran and will not stop research and development on Iran’s advanced centrifuges,” he said. “On the contrary. The deal would legitimize Iran’s illegal nuclear program. It would leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure. A vast nuclear infrastructure remains in place.”
He called on the world powers to stand firm and increase pressure in Iran until what he termed a good deal is achieved.
President Barack Obama phoned Netanyahu hours after the framework was struck on Thursday, and the two men had what was reported as a difficult conversation.
“A deal based on this framework would threaten the survival of Israel. Just two days ago, Iran said that “the destruction of Israel is nonnegotiable,” and in these fateful days Iran is accelerating the arming of its terror proxies to attack Israel. This deal would legitimize Iran’s nuclear program, bolster Iran’s economy, and increase Iran’s aggression and terror throughout the Middle East and beyond,” Netanyahu told Obama during the call.
“Such a deal would not block Iran’s path to the bomb. It would pave it. It would increase the risks of nuclear proliferation in the region and the risks of a horrific war. The alternative is standing firm and increasing the pressure on Iran until a better deal is achieved,” he added.
Obama, calling from aboard Air Force One, countered that the deal “represents significant progress towards a lasting, comprehensive solution that cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb and verifiably ensures the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program going forward,” according to a read-out released by the White House.
Obama said the deal “in no way diminishes our concerns with respect to Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and threats towards Israel and emphasized that the United States remains steadfast in our commitment to the security of Israel,” the White House said.
The US president told Netanyahu that he instructed his security team to “increase consultations with the new Israeli government about how we can further strengthen our long-term security cooperation with Israel and remain vigilant in countering Iran’s threats.”